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Indepth Arts News:

"Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern"
2005-06-23 until 2005-10-16
Portland Museum of Art
Portland, ME, USA

The most comprehensive exhibition of its kind, Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art from June 23 through October 16, 2005. The exhibition brings together more than 130 of the artists paintings, drawings, and prints and explores Kents vibrant career, his role in developing a modern American art, and his significance in our cultural heritage. The show, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of Kents arrival in Maine in June 1905, includes major loans from leading American and Russian institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of Art, The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, and The State Hermitage Museum, among others. 

One of the great painters of his day, Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) made innovations that reverberated through American culture in the first half of the 20th century. He rose to prominence between the world wars as a painter of extraordinary power whose adventurous life captured the American imagination. Personifying the spirit of a restless era, Kent frequently journeyed to remote corners of the Western Hemisphere including Newfoundland, Alaska, Tierra del Fuego, and Greenland to paint land and seascapes. Kent first visited the island of Monhegan, off the coast of Maine, in 1905. He exhibited his first group of paintings from Maine in 1907 to critical acclaim in New York City. Kent became one of the most watched painters of his day as his contemporaries Edward Hopper and George Bellows arrived on Monhegan to paint their visions of that distinctive landscape.

The exhibition reunites a remarkable group of Kents Newfoundland paintings and drawings borrowed from American and Russian public collections, many not seen for generations. Kent moved to Newfoundland in 1914 with his wife and children, and over the course of a year there, he developed a new body of work in response to the challenges presented by the Armory Show of 1913, a showcase for new painting from Europe. Kent forged a new American Symbolist aesthetic that evolved into his bold signature style.

Kent also spent time in Greenland. During his two sojourns there during the winters of 1931-32 and 1934-35, Kent painted icescapes of extraordinary power-towering glaciers and skies glowing with the dazzling clarity of Arctic light. These visionary, utopian paintings included passages of spare, almost abstract beauty.

Mythic American characters such as Captain Ahab and Paul Bunyan were also the subjects of Kents work, and a distinguished group of Kents drawings for Moby Dick and Paul Bunyan are brought together in this exhibition for the first time. These pen, brush, and ink drawings are examples of his mature style that art historian Paul Cummings considered highly influential. In the broader cultural realm of art and commerce, Kent is remembered for the innovations he brought to institutional advertising. He invented a modern American vernacular for the consumer that integrated mythic figures and neoclassical motifs. Kent also promoted national cohesiveness during the Second World War through his portrayals of the merchant mariner for American Export Lines. A selection of pen and ink drawings from the American Export Lines series will be included together with drawings of the American dream for Rahr Malting Company that were published in 1947.

Kents genius as a renderer with pen and ink played a central role in gaining him recognition as a spirited modern. A lively group of his inventive jazz-age drawings will be assembled, many of which were published in the pages of Vanity Fair. Frank Crowninshield, who edited Vanity Fair, considered Kent the most original, vigorous and promising of his artists. Carl Zigrosser, who became curator of prints and drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, envisioned Kent as a great satirist-a Daumier for modern America. Kents witty, curvilinear drawings addressed issues of metropolitan and suburban life, exposing the foibles and flouting the pretensions of upper-class sophisticates. Editors of Vanity Fair, Puck, Life, and the New York Tribune paired Kents drawings with the urbane columns of George S. Kaufman, Franklin P. Adams, Dorothy Parker, and George S. Chappell. Also exhibited will be a dazzling group of Kents richly colored reverse paintings on glass from 1918, which represent Kents contribution to a simplified, modern style.

Rockwell Kent
Headlands and Sea
oil on canvas
38 x 44 inches
Private Collection

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